I am fortunate to be living in Washington, D.C. while “Operation Protective Edge” is underway. Still, the signs of war in Gaza and Israel are unavoidable here. In the past few days, I have witnessed three “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations. The most disconcerting of which was the protest conducted by a group of parents and their elementary school aged children who marched around George Washington University’s campus with “End the Israeli Apartheid” posters.
I am certain that whatever explanations these parents used to attract their children to this act of civil engagement lacked the depth required to understand the conflict on even a surface level. I doubt that the parents discussed with their children the history of Israel’s discouraged and disintegrating political left or Hamas’ utilitarian appeal. And, it’s likely that there was little talk of the leadership void in the Palestinian territories for which both Israelis and Palestinians are at fault. Nevertheless, these child protesters’ puerile slogans sounded cogent compared to the catalogue of metaphors comparing Israelis to genocidaires that talk show host Diane Rehm allowed on her National Public Radio show.
This week, I am constantly reminded of a question recently posed by comedian John Stewart to Hilary Clinton. Stewart asked, “Can we expect other countries to view us with such nuance when we so clearly don’t view them with nuance…?” Though asked by a comedian, this question should not be taken lightly. We must consider how Israeli officials and Israel’s increasingly nationalistic populous are bound to respond to absurd and debasing criticisms.
I have witnessed increasing resentment in Israel towards the international community—particularly the United Nations, European Union, and United States. As the criticisms of Israel become increasingly reductionist, Israelis become more despondent and compelled to dismiss the entire international community as anti-Semitic. This scene leaves little room for foreign leaders to have a positive impact on cease-fire negotiations. But, what is most worrisome is the fact that Israelis are becoming emboldened to defy the international community’s recommendations davka.*
This phenomenon is not particular to the current war. It has been festering in Israel for years and is compromising Israel’s best critics—Israelis of the political left. This was evident when representatives from other progressive Israeli NGOs and I met with Andrei Abramov, the Chief of the UN’s NGO Branch. Mr. Abramov met with us to learn how the UN could do more to support pro-peace contingents in Israel. I was at this meeting on behalf of the Bedouin rights organization that I worked for at the time. Many of the other NGO representatives worked on behalf of non-Jewish populations, and each had criticized Israeli policy at one time or another. Still, we unanimously expressed frustration about the UN’s monolithic and disproportionate criticisms of Israel. Because of these criticisms, many Israelis now oppose organizations that are even marginally affiliated with the UN. This leaves Israeli NGOs in a tough position wherein their credibility is undermined and their access to populations in need is limited.
Criticism is absolutely necessary. Israel’s attack on a hospital earlier this week was devastating, and its causes must be stringently investigated. But, criticism against Israel must reflect soundly reasoned assessments of the conditions surrounding war. Criticism that lacks nuance won’t do anyone good. It will only have a destructive impact, particularly on non-Jews in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the NGOs who support them.
*A Hebrew term that means, among other things, taking action to deliberately antagonize